Zolochiv – Ukrainian forces swept deeper into territory seized from fleeing Russian troops on Monday, and joyful residents returned to former frontline villages, while Moscow’s leaders dodged any discussion of the collapse of their occupation force in northeast Ukraine.
Ukraine’s general staff said its soldiers had recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in just the past day.
“People are crying, people are joyful, of course. How could they not be joyful!” said retired English teacher Zoya, 76, north of Kharkiv in the now-quiet village of Zolochiv 18 kilometres (10 miles) from the Russian frontier, weeping as she described the months she had spent sheltering in the cellar.
Nastya, 28, had fled the village in April, but returned last week after news of Ukrainian advances.
“I think everyone’s in a great (mood)! It’s all over now. At least we hope it’s all over,” she said, queuing for groceries with two small children.
Further north, Ukrainian troops had moved into Udi, a hamlet in what had been no-man’s-land closer to the frontier. Soldiers returning from there said it was still unsafe, littered with land mines, grenades and weapons left behind by fleeing Russian troops, with abandoned farm animals wandering about.
Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-installed head of Moscow’s occupation administration in what remained of Russian-held territory in Kharkiv region, acknowledged that Ukraine’s troops had broken through to the frontier.
Ganchev, who has ordered the complete evacuation of civilians from Russian-held parts of the province, told Russia’s state-owned Rossiya-24 television that about 5,000 civilians had escaped to Russia but the frontier was now shut.
“The situation is becoming more difficult by the hour,” he said.
President Vladimir Putin and his senior officials have said nothing as Russia’s forces face their worst defeat since the war’s early weeks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to answer directly when asked by a reporter if Putin still had confidence in the military leadership.